The spokesperson of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement) said that the various cause-oriented groups are ready to stage a series of protest actions if oil prices increase again and the temporary restraining order on the Expanded Value-Added Tax (EVAT) law is lifted at the same time. The protests would include a nationwide transport strike, KMU spokesperson Prestoline Suyat told Bulatlat in an interview.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The spokesperson of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement) said that the various cause-oriented groups are ready to stage a series of protest actions should oil prices increase again and the temporary restraining order on the Expanded Value-Added Tax (E-VAT) law is lifted at the same time. The protests would include a nationwide transport strike, KMU spokesperson Prestoline Suyat told Bulatlat in an interview.
World oil prices had reached historic highs in the past few weeks, with Dubai crude oil soaring to $55 per barrel and New York crude oil jumping to $67 per barrel. This, despite the recent revelation of Sheikh Ahmad Fahad Al Sabah, Kuwait’s oil minister, that global oil supply has exceeded demand over the last two years.
Meanwhile, oil companies in the Philippines had taken advantage of the recent surge in world oil prices to increase pump prices by as much as P0.50 ($0.0089 based on a $1:P55.94 exchange rate) per liter. This latest oil price hike was the 14th this year, making for a total P7.50 ($0.1341) per liter increase in diesel prices and P4.50 ($0.081) per liter increase in gasoline prices.
The Macapagal-Arroyo government has called for energy conservation measures as a way of coping with what Malacañang describes as a “looming energy crisis.”
In an Aug. 21 statement, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye came up with suggestions on energy conservation, among them the following: replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent bulbs, setting air-conditioning thermostats to the lowest comfortable level, unplugging electrical appliances when not in use, proper maintenance of vehicles, and avoidance of elevator usage. He even warned that in a worst-case scenario, the government could be forced to resort to oil rationing, similar to what was done in the 1980s, when the Iran-Iraq war triggered a world oil crisis.
Suyat described Malacañang’s energy-saving prescriptions as “ridiculous.” According to him, it is the government that is to be blamed for what it describes as an energy crisis. “Because we have no basic industries,” Suyat said, “we are dependent on the world market.”
The supposed energy crisis was also among the issues raised in a multi-sectoral rally at Welcome Rotunda, the boundary between Quezon City and Manila, last Aug. 23. Various groups under the banner of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) commemorated the 109th anniversary of the Cry of Pugadlawin, an event which signaled the start of the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spanish colonialism, by shredding LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) purchase receipts and other symbols of what Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes, Jr. described as “economic burdens imposed by the Arroyo administration.”
“We have nothing left to save and yet we are being called upon to be more frugal,” Emmi de Jesus, secretary-general of the women’s alliance Gabriela said during the rally.
In a statement distributed during the rally, Eleanor de Guzman, Anakbayan secretary-general, called for the suspension of Republic Act 8479 or the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Act of 1998 and the imposition of a moratorium on oil price hikes.
Also raised during the rally was the issue of the E-VAT law.
“The E-VAT law is concededly a bitter pill to take but this is what is necessary to enhance our fiscal stability, to equitably spread out the tax burden, shore up business confidence and broaden social reforms,” Bunye had said in his Aug. 21 statement.
Speaking at the Aug. 23 rally, Reyes said: “Our bondage today is partly symbolized by the many taxes and debts we are being forced to pay by the Arroyo administration.”
Asked to comment on Bunye’s statement on the E-VAT, Suyat said: “The E-VAT law should be scrapped. It will adversely affect basic commodities and the revenues to be raised from its implementation will not benefit the country, they will just go to debt servicing and corruption.”
Presently covered by the VAT are: food products (processed meat, canned fish, coconut and vegetable oil, bakery products, noodles, milk, dairy products, coffee, sugar); clothing, footwear, tannery and leather products; drugs and medicine, furniture, pulp and paper; glass and glass products; cement, steel, iron, wood and most construction materials; electrical lamps and equipment; machinery and equipment both for manufacturing and agriculture; wholesale trade and retail trade; pawnshops; restaurants, cafes and other eating and drinking places; employment and recruitment agencies; motion picture production; hotels and motels; and telecommunications (including landline, post-paid and pre-paid mobile phone services).
In his Aug. 21 statement, Bunye had said that the government would implement measures to alleviate the impact of the E-VAT if the Supreme Court’s TRO be lifted. Among these, said Bunye, would be the reduction of import tariff on petroleum products, the elimination of excise tax on oil products, the deployment of rolling “cold chain facilities” to make agricultural products like fresh meat and vegetables accessible to consumers at cheaper prices and the activation of monitoring units to guard against price gouging.
Any measure that would help, Suyat said, would be welcome, “but the government must also take into consideration the demands of the people and the mass organizations.” (Bulatlat.com)